A draw was a victory of sorts for Australia on the final day of the third Test on Monday (March 20). Trailing India by 152 on the first count, the visitors began the last morning on 23 for 2, and found themselves in a deep hole at 63 for 4, a little after the first drinks break of the day. Among those dismissed was Steven Smith, who has been a thorn in India’s side for the last seven Tests.
India believed they had more than a foot in the door, but Shaun Marsh and Peter Handscomb thwarted their designs with a stirring fifth-wicket stand that carried the team to safety, leaving the four-Test series square at 1-1 with the last game to start in Dharamsala on Saturday.
“If there’s anything called momentum, it’s with us at the moment,” Smith said at the conclusion of the hostilities. “India coming today would have expected to bowl us out. I’m sure they’re hurting a little bit in their change room. If there’s anything like momentum in cricket, it’s probably on our side at the minute. It’s 1-1 all and we have the decider in Dharamsala, which is really exciting.
“I am very proud of the way we fought today,” Smith added, in a theme that was to recur during the 10-minute interaction. “They (Marsh and Handscomb) had magnificent plans. They backed their defence for long periods of time. To see the game out for as long as they did was an outstanding performance. I’m really proud of the way they did that. That’s one of the things we’ve been talking about – being resilient and sticking out the tough times. The way Petey and Shaun did that was magnificent.”
Marsh and Handscomb arrived at the crease within minutes of each other, what with Matt Renshaw and Smith himself dismissed in successive overs. “It wasn’t ideal to lose two set batters at once,” Smith conceded. “That’s one thing we always talk about here in India — to not lose wickets in clumps. It wasn’t ideal but I have faith in the boys behind me. Petey’s looked very good in every game so far without going on to make a score. Today, the way he did that, his 70 is worth 140 in my eyes. I thought he played beautifully and Shaun as well, they stuck to their plans throughout and never shied away from it.”
Smith was bowled by a ball from Ravindra Jadeja pitched in the rough outside his leg-stump, but curled enough past his hesitant left pad to knock back the off-stump. “I could have got a fraction further down the wicket and used the outside of my pad,” Smith observed. “I just misjudged it, made a mistake and paid the price.
“I didn’t expect the game to go five days, certainly before a ball was bowled,” he continued, referring to the playing surface that had been pilloried by the Aussies long before the first ball had been bowled. “It didn’t look it would hold for five days like the curator said, but he was correct, I think he did a good job. It was a really nice wicket, a little bit of rough around the leg-stump for the right-handers and the off-stump for the left-handers for Jadeja and (Steve) O’Keefe to hit. It was a nice wicket.”
Smith was asked how Australia had felt physically and mentally after India’s marathon first innings that ended at 603 for 9 declared. “Tired,” he came back, immediately. “I have never spent 210 overs in the field before. SOK (O’Keefe) was joking for a minute, I think he bowled around 78 overs, that if he bowled two more, he was going to get the old ball off and get a new one from his end. It was a long time on the field. But credit to them. (Cheteshwar) Pujara and (Wriddhiman) Saha batted exceptionally well. It was a long time in the field. Credit to our boys the way they came out today after having such heavy legs to be able hold out for the draw.”
Australia had spent more than a week in Dubai on their way to India, preparing for the very scenario they encountered in this Test – batting time to save a Test on a fifth-day track. “It’s having a game plan and being able to stick to it,” Smith said of what the preparations in Dubai had entailed. “Having a defence and sometimes a defence is sweeping the ball out of the rough, although we didn’t see any of it today. The guys were backing their defence, that’s important to do that in these conditions. The way Petey and Shaun backed their defence was exceptional.
“I’m sure all of the boys who batted out in the middle, Renshaw, Shaun and Handscomb – the three that did very well here, I’m sure they will take loads out of what they did in the second innings. It’s never easy to bat in the fourth innings in India to save the game. I was exceptionally proud the way they went about their business.”
Everyone in the top order has had at least one meaningful hit this series, and Smith said that was brilliant news going into the last Test. “It’s great signs for us. Everyone is contributing as such. Everyone is in good form. We have had a good three Test matches, we’ve played some very good cricket. But I felt we were ourselves 100 runs short in the first innings. We would have liked to get 550 and been able to get in front of the game from there. Things could have ended differently, that’s the game of cricket. It’s great to see the batters, they have worked very hard with their plans and are contributing.
“It’s 1-1, plenty to play for in Dharamsala. It’s going to be another great Test match to be involved in. Hopefully this Australian cricket team can continue to adapt and show fight and resilience and put another display on in Dharamsala.”